Dame Fortune and Her Wheel.

This isn’t a post about the Wheel of Fortune card. Dame Fortune’s Wheel (DFW) is the name given by Paul Huson to the pack of Tarot cards that he designed (the most recent addition to my collection), and it is that which I will discuss today (someday I’ll get around to a post about Key X of the Major Arcana; it’s been mentioned many times before on this blog).

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An example of the Major Arcana, Court, and Small cards – DFW

Before I delve into the cards, though, I’d like to take a moment or two to talk about Huson’s book, called Mystical Origins of the Tarot.

If you’re into history (like me), this book is an incredibly valuable resource. I have other books that do a great job treating Tarot history in my library (such as Tyson’s book on Tarot magic or Decker’s book on the Medieval Scapini Tarot), but none can match this one. It is both a history of Tarot cards as objects, as well as of the various symbols used in the cards. Some of the information is surprising, but it all makes sense in Huson’s presentation of it.

It seems to me that this book is primarily marketed as a history of the Tarot, and a history of Tarot it is. But that’s not all it does. There are in-depth explanations of every card in the deck, discussing meanings as well as history, and complete with lists of interpretations from all the major names in Tarot (like Etteilla, Levi, Mathers, the Golden Dawn, and Waite, to name a few of the more familiar ones). These sections are followed by a manual for divination with the cards by several methods, ranging from simple to very complex. The entire thing is wrapped up with multiple useful appendices for further research and an extensive bibliography. Overall, this book is an excellent general-purpose Tarot book, aimed at understanding the cards in their historical context, from their inception to the present.

The book is also illustrated by the author, who happens to be something of an artist, as well. That skill proved useful when he tried his hand at creating a deck. Mystical Origins of the Tarot is not a companion to the DFW, at least, not really. But Huson definitely designed the cards with his research for the book in mind (the book predates the cards by a couple of years), and as such, the book goes well with the cards.

The cards are striking in their appearance, with bold lines and colors that evoke stained-glass windows (I heard that analogy somewhere and really liked it). The imagery of the Major Arcana can be understood and traced back to its historical origins with the aid of the book, although I do not think the book is completely necessary to enjoy the cards (I do strongly recommend it, however). Some of these cards are easily recognizable in their Marseille counterparts; some of them are very different. Mostly, though, it is subtle differences that make this deck unique. It is familiar and new all at once.

The Minor Arcana are illustrated with original artwork by Huson. Again, he made use of his research when designing these cards, synthesizing a meaning for each from multiple historic sources (none of which are as old as those of the Major Arcana, though). The images are lighthearted and playful overall, set in an idealized medieval world, not unlike Smith’s renderings for Waite’s famous Tarot. It should be noted that the style and specific content of the Minor Arcana do not mirror Smith’s at all; just the pseudo-medieval setting and playful tone. These cards are not rip-offs of the RWS in the slightest. Any overlap in design is a result of the source material (Etteilla’s minor arcana designations influenced both decks significantly, for example).

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The Significator, adorned with the signs of the Zodiac.

In addition to the Major and Minor Arcana, Huson includes in his deck a 79th card, labelled “Significator.” This is a practice first introduced by Etteilla, and while most deck designers abstain from including such a card, and while I generally choose my own significators from the court cards without any trepidation, I really like that Huson did this.

I like Dame Fortune’s Wheel very much. It is refreshingly original, and yet remains true to historical Tarots (assuming you put stock in Huson’s book, which I do). I could easily imagine these cards existing during the time that Tarot was a new phenomenon. Not only that, but the artwork truly is compelling. However, I do have one gripe about these cards.

I’ve read many Tarot reviews of cards I own that complain about the quality of the cardstock, but have never had any issues myself with any of them. Unfortunately, this is not the case with the DFW. The cards feel thin and flimsy, and they are so slippery that shuffling them requires great attention and care lest half the pack goes flying. For this reason, I don’t use these cards nearly as much as I suspect I would otherwise, which is a darn shame considering how awesome they are in every other way.

~~~

The 8th Circle of Hell…

I’ve been steadily reading my way through Dante’s Inferno.

Currently, I’m travelling with Dante and Virgil through the 8th circle, which is itself subdivided into ten sections. I’m cowering at the edge of the section containing Thieves; we’ve recently passed through the sections containing the Hypocrites and the Perculators. The inhabitants of the section prior to those have left me haunted. This section is the fourth in the circle, and it contains Diviners and Magicians, grotesquely punished for all eternity for having the audacity to peek at God’s plan before He meant to reveal it to them.

Well, shit.

I mean, I don’t really subscribe to the Christian faith in general, let alone the medieval perspective of the early 1300s when Dante was writing. But it’s a sobering thought nonetheless to realize that I’d be condemned to the 8th circle of Hell just for playing with my Tarot cards.* There are only 9 circles. The Diviners are pretty far down the pit.

I suppose it’s something every Tarot-er probably contemplates at some point in his or her life. Whether they’re familiar with the specifics of Dante’s Hell or not, it’s no secret that practitioners of magic and divination are committing a hell-worthy trespass from the perspective of many religious folk. I’m gambling with my everlasting soul by using the Tarot (oddly fitting, I think, considering that the Tarot originated as a deck of cards for gambling).

Is it worth it?

Obviously, if I believed in Dante’s vision, it would absolutely not be worth it. And perhaps just as obviously, I don’t believe in Dante’s vision, as should be made evident by the very existence of this blasphemous blog. But there are enough shades of grey in my own worldview to merit at least a pause when confronted with something like this.

~~~

 

*The Tarot isn’t known to have existed in Dante’s time, but I suspect he’d have frowned upon it.

 

Wirth’s Tarot Trumps.

I don’t think everyone in the Tarot community will necessarily agree with me, but it is my opinion that Oswald Wirth was one of the most important figures in the history of occult Tarot (what little of it I know).

The reason I don’t suspect widespread agreement from the Tarot community is because of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn, with which Wirth was contemporary, but of which he had no part. The Golden Dawn’s system for occult Tarot is the foremost system in use today, so much so that it seems to me to possess a sort of posthumous monopoly over the cards.* Oswald Wirth’s system, on the other hand, was different from the Golden Dawn’s, and his was even derided by some of its members (including Mr. Crowley, who apparently had no respect for Wirth at all judging by his words in the Book of Thoth.**).

At first glance, Wirth’s Tarot system wouldn’t seem so very different. After all, he deals with many of the same subjects, most notably astrology, alchemy, Cabbalah, and occult initiation. He was also very clearly influenced by the theory that the Tarot was derived from a book of wisdom handed down from the ancient Egyptians, a theory that many – if not all – in the Golden Dawn apparently subscribed to, as well. But Wirth’s treatment of these subjects were indeed different than the Golden Dawn’s. For instance, he attributed his cards to astrological constellations in a much broader fashion, foregoing the strictly zodiacal method of the GD and including such figures as Perseus and Cassiopeia (the Hanged Man and the High Priestess, respectively. His reasons for these are interesting, but that’s a different topic for a different time).

Perhaps Wirth’s trumps don’t receive as much attention because they really just don’t look like much in comparison.*** The images are so heavily influenced by the Marseilles pattern that it’s safe to say all he really did was tweak that design. Of course, there are some significant deviations on many if not all of the cards, but these are subtle enough on the whole that an un-trained eye probably won’t notice much difference.

I think his true import is in his interpretations of the cards, rather than his cards themselves. Everything you never knew about occult systems and symbolism as they relate to a deck of Tarot cards can be read in his book, called Tarot of the Magicians.**** I found it enlightening, to say the least.

Now, the reason I think that Wirth’s contributions are so important to occult Tarot on a historic level is precisely because he based his designs on the TdM. This pattern of cards predates the Golden Dawn by a couple centuries, and it is essentially the basis of Tarot as we know it. By applying his methods – occult theories which are as equally valid as those of the GD – to what amounts to a universal Tarot deck, he effectively made Tarot itself occult. Prior to his work, the Marseilles pattern was not occult by definition. Granted, Wirth is not the only person to contribute to the occult Tarot, nor even the first. But the details he added to the cards are prevalent in so many subsequent decks that are based on the TdM (of the decks I own, the MST is the most clearly influenced by him). These details add shades of symbolic meaning without altering the fundamental design of the cards. Wirth wasn’t trying to create an esoteric deck of secret knowledge; he was trying to show that secret knowledge was already inherent in the deck, and with his book, he showed that it didn’t have to be a secret, after all.

Don’t get me wrong. I think secret societies are fun. But Wirth was about sharing the knowledge, and I appreciate that.

I do take issue with one major aspect of Wirth’s system: his has no place for the Minor Arcana. A Wirth deck has only 22 cards. His trumps are influential for sure, but trumps are all they are.

I for one do not consider a pack of cards a true Tarot unless it follows the structure of both Major and Minor Arcana. For all of his valuable contribution to the Tarot, Wirth would not give us a full deck. For some reason or other, he didn’t believe the Minor Arcana held any significance. I think that’s a shame (although, certainly his hypothetical Minor Arcana would have only been Marseilles pips, anyway, so I suppose it’s no great loss).

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The Juggler from a TdM on the left, and Wirth’s Juggler on the right.

 

*Not that I have any problem with the Golden Dawn. I cannot overstate their importance, and I believe their associations are so well-known for a good reason, but I also think it’s fair to let other systems have their day, especially Wirth’s, whose system is grossly underrated in their shadow.

**That’ll be on page 209, in his entry on the Ace of Disks, if you’re curious. Wirth isn’t the only one Crowley lambasts here.

***Yes, it is true that we don’t actually know what the Golden Dawn’s Tarot really looked like, but we know enough about it to have a general idea, not to mention the fact that the two most popular Tarot decks in the world are arguably those of Waite’s and Crowley’s, both of whom were members of the Order.

****This book was written in French, and it’s actual title given by Wirth is somewhat different, and undecipherable to a buffoon like myself who can’t read French. I’ve recorded the specifics here if you’re actually interested.

Temperance.

I had a revelation about the Temperance card the other night, courtesy of Oswald Wirth. Before I get into that, though, I will share some more general thoughts about this card.

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Temperance – RWS

This card has always intrigued me, and I’ve been meaning to write about it for quite some time now, but for some reason or other, I just have not been able to figure out just what it is I wanted to say.

To me, this card illustrates first and foremost the successful reconciliation of Binary Opposites in an individual’s life. The symbolism is there in the mixing of the fluids in the two cups, not to mention the very word ‘temperance’ being used as the title. Of course, the World shows a similar reconciliation, but it can be argued that the individual is no longer an entity in that card, whereas in Temperance, the individual still exists. Here opposition has been transformed into a Golden Mean, which still requires the existence of two poles. In the World, opposition has been totally overcome, revealed to be nothing more than illusion.

If we break the Major Arcana into groups of seven, Temperance ends the second set. Folks who interpret the Tarot in this way usually suggest that the first seven indicate stages of worldly endeavors, the second spiritual, and the third to be transcendent towards truly divine (or cosmic, however you want to word it) enlightenment. Temperance brings about the achievement of the goal of the second set, uniting the spiritual with the worldly, shown by the triangle (spirit) inside the square (world) upon the angel’s chest.

So, a person can conceivably work their way through the first fourteen stages and stop with Temperance, being a perfectly happy and balanced spiritual being, and getting reasonable fulfillment from life.

Of course, there’s much more to be experienced by those willing to brave the next card, but that’s another story for another time.

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Art – CHT

This card is also sometimes called “Art”, referring to the art of alchemy.* In these versions of the card, the figure (not necessarily an angel anymore) is pouring substances from two vessels into a third, rather than a substance from one vessel into another. These two substances represent fire and water, elemental opposites blending together to create life. Some of these details are significant in their differences, but overall, the theme of blending and balancing found in traditional Temperance cards still rings true here.

So there you have it. That’s the significance I always found in Temperance. Balance and reconciliation of personal opposites. Or living life by the laws of moderation. It’s a message that plays a very important role in my life, and as such, I’ve always held a certain respect for the angel of Temperance. I believe moderation is the key to personal happiness. Everything in moderation, as they say (even moderation). But there is something more to this card that until recently eluded me.

For one thing, it always confused me that this fairly positive card would fall between the two cards which are arguably the most negative in their connotations, namely Death and the Devil. I always figured its placement in terms of the Fool’s Journey, perhaps a moment of necessary respite between these two harrowing experiences. A silver lining, so to speak, on an otherwise dark and oppressive storm cloud. But why Temperance?

Hajo Banzhaf in his book Tarot and the Journey of the Hero equates the Temperance card with what he calls the “guide of souls,” evoking the concept of the psychopomp in my mind. Alright, I suppose that’s a natural association to make given its place in the sequence of the Major Arcana, but again, why Temperance? How does a card of balance and moderation fit that role? In my opinion, Banzhaf’s book is phenomenal, quite possibly the best work available as far as mythic archetypes in Tarot are concerned, and overall very well-written and thought-provoking. But in the instance of Temperance, I failed to understand his connection. Probably it is my own shortcomings as a reader, and I intend to re-read that chapter with my newfound appreciation for this card, but until I read Wirth, I simply did not get it.

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Death, followed by Temperance – MST

Of course, having now read Wirth’s interpretation of the card, it seems so obvious to me. It’s not necessarily about balance and moderation at all, but rather a different angle from which to view the action of the card. What if the Angel of Temperance isn’t mixing the liquids at all, but instead is just transferring them from one vessel to another?

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Wirth’s Temperance.

This is how Oswald Wirth intended his Temperance to be understood, and its place directly following Death is very significant. The vessels are transient matter, and the liquid is the eternal soul moving from one body to the next. It is a statement of eternal life in spite of the inevitability of Death. And it is the angel guiding the liquid, careful not to spill a drop. The psychopomp’s job in mythology was to guide the recently deceased soul safely to the underworld or afterlife (Hermes is considered a psychopomp, by the way). Banzhaf uses other examples that aren’t strictly psychopomps, such as Virgil in Dante’s Divine Comedy. But while Virgil isn’t really a psychopomp in the sense that Hermes is, his role in Dante’s epic is certainly that of guidance through the underworld.

Looking back at this card as Art, the guide of souls doesn’t really fit quite so nicely. But while Art is a valid interpretation of Temperance, it’s not particularly traditional, and so I think it’s safe to say that Temperance in its most original form (as we know it) can indeed stand for the eternal nature of the soul. But that’s not to say that interpretations of balance and blending are wrong. In fact, I still think of these things as foremost when faced with the Temperance card by itself. It pleases me, however, to have a more sensible meaning to resort to when dealing with the card in the context of the Major sequence. Wirth’s description of Temperance succeeded in doing just that for me.

*First named so by Mr. Crowley.

 

The Wheel of the Year.

It seems as though I’ve been in writer’s hibernation for a while, now. Here I am, poking my head out of my hole, squinting in the bright sunlight. Time for a stretch; shake off the cobwebs; put on the coffee. Here we go.

While I haven’t been writing, I have been reading about the Tarot and using my cards. The Council has (finally) joined me on the Tarot bandwagon, and I am no longer alone in my cartomantic practice. So I have been thinking and talking Tarot, creating exercises to help them get acquainted with their cards (which I may post on here at some point), discussing, positing theories, studying, and taking suggestions from them (they catch on quick when they want to). I’ve also been spending time getting to know my own decks, deciphering their unique nuances, and evolving my overall relationship with the cards in general. I think there will be more writing to come after this. It’s been building up inside for a while.

In particular, I’ve been really spending time with my Wildwood deck, using it for readings like I’ve never been able to before, but more importantly (I think), familiarizing myself with the Wheel of the Year.

The what?

The Wildwood Tarot is essentially composed around two separate structures. The first is that which is common to every Tarot. There are 56 minor arcana divided among four suits, numbered within each suit from ace (1) to 10, and complete with four court cards per suit; there are also 22 so-called trump cards or major arcana, 21 of which are numbered in sequence, with the addition of an unnumbered (Fool) card. In this way, the WWT is a Tarot just as any other.

The second structure underlying the WWT is known as the Wheel of the Year. Where the typical Tarot structure is essentially linear,* the Wheel of the Year (or Wheel, as I’ll henceforth be referring to it, not to be confused with Arcana X the Wheel of Fortune) is cyclical. It is the presence of this structure, co-existing with the first, which sets this Tarot apart from others.

The WWT did not invent the Wheel of the Year. This deck was inspired by the earlier Greenwood Tarot, which used (what I presume to be) the same system. I’m not positive, but I believe there are some other Tarot decks out there that also have used this or similar systems. As a spiritual concept, the idea behind the Wheel is older, predating Christianity and indeed, the Tarot itself. However, in my collection, it is through the WWT that I have become acquainted with the Wheel, and so everything I say will be in terms of that deck and its corresponding guidebook.

The Wheel of the Year is essentially based on the cycle of four seasons that is characteristic of temperate climates. Unlike astrology, which is also a wheel of the year in a sense, albeit existing in the heavens, this system is rooted in the earth. While the stars and planets operate on the same yearly cycle, the Wheel here in question is much more immediate, much more tangible, and has a much more noticeable effect on humans than its counterpart in the sky (no matter how much stock you may put into astrology), not to mention its simplicity next to all the decans, dignities, and what-have-yous of the heavens. In terms of yearly-cycle-systems, this makes the WWT more immediately accessible than other occult decks that base their attributions on astrology.

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Counterclockwise from left: Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter represented by their respective Aces.

The function of the Minor Arcana in this system is fairly straightforward, making use of the divisions inherent in traditional Tarot structure (four suits for four seasons). The suits are re-named to match the theme of the deck and reordered to follow the seasons: Arrows (Swords) for Spring; Bows (Wands) for Summer; Vessels (Cups) for Autumn; and Stones (Coins or Pentacles) for Winter. Each season begins with the Ace and King of its suit, and progresses through the remainder until the season changes. The Court cards progress separately but alongside the small cards, meaning that the time it takes to go through the four cards of the court is the same amount of time it takes to go through the ten small cards. Each season is roughly three months long, and while the guidebook doesn’t specify which cards go on which days, it’s a fairly simple matter to figure out a system that works for you. Generally speaking, a small card will encompass a little over a week, and a court card somewhere around three weeks.

For the Major Arcana, things get a little more complex. In order to understand, it helps to visualize a literal wheel with 8 spokes. These spokes represent the start or midpoint of each season, always associated with a festival (or sabbat, if you’re into that neopagan/wiccan jargon). On each spoke stands a pair of Majors. These two cards represent energies specific to the festival on which they stand, one of which is individual, and the other collective.

But that only accounts for 16 of the trumps.

Four of the remaining six trumps sit at the center or hub of the wheel, and they each represent, you guessed it, one of the seasons. The Time of Stones, for example, begins with Samhain (11/1), upon which stand the Journey (Death) and the Guardian (Devil). Halfway through the season, we reach the Winter Solstice or Yule (12/21), and here are the Great Bear (Judgement) and the Hooded Man (Hermit). The Time of Stones gives way to the Time of Arrows with the Pole Star (Star) and the Ancestor (Hierophant) at Imbolc (2/1), and the cycle starts again. However, throughout the entire season of Stones, the Wanderer, one of the four “hub cards,” is present. He (or she) represents the entire season.

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The Hub of the Wheel.

The four Elemental cards (as I personally refer to the hub cards) are the Wanderer (the Fool – Winter), the Shaman (the Magician – Spring), the World Tree (the World – Summer), and the Seer (the High Priestess – Autumn). The final two cards remaining, that are neither on a festival nor representative of a season, are the Sun of Life and the Moon on Water (the Sun and Moon, respectively). Each of these is assigned to half of the wheel, divided along the line of the Equinoxes.

So, on any given day, you have at least four cards (two Majors, one court, and one small card). On the eight festival days in the year, you have an additional two Majors.

For example, at the time of this writing,** the cards are the Sun of Life, the World Tree, the Stoat (Page of Bows), and the Ten of Bows, titled “Responsibility.” These are the very last cards of the Time of Bows, and in a couple days (8/1), we will enter the Time of Vessels, and while we’ll keep the Sun of Life for a few more weeks, the World Tree will give way to the Seer, the Stoat will hand the baton off to the Heron (King of Vessels), and the Ten of Bows will become the Ace of Vessels. Additionally, on August 1st, which is Lammas festival in the Celtic Wheel of the Year, we’ll have both the Woodward (Strength) and the Blasted Oak (Tower) to examine and celebrate.

As you can see, the Wildwood and the Wheel are structured in such a way that can be used as an interactive calendar, which is a novel use for the cards to me.*** As I progress through the year, I meditate on the meanings of the cards assigned to each day. Many people consider the WWT to be a rather dark deck, and while I don’t totally disagree, the guidebook takes a very positive and constructive stance on interpretation. As I consider the cards of the day, I remember the lessons and suggestions of the guidebook, and no darkness is ever too dark to penetrate. The result is a deck that acts as a daily spiritual guide for me, and while I realize it is completely possible to do this with any Tarot deck, I doubt any would be so thorough by virtue of its design. This is the best way to get to know the WWT. It takes a year, but I think it’ll be worth it.

I’ve been using the WWT like this since about May (the Time of Arrows), and because of it, the WWT has gradually become one of my favorite decks in my collection. As of now, it is my primary deck for personal spiritual development, and it is quickly becoming one of my best reading decks (it works surprisingly well with my Sentinel Spread).

I’ll check back from time to time with updates on my thoughts about the Wheel of the Year.

 

 

*This is a simplified generalization compared to this more accurate description of my views of the Tarot structure. What I really mean by linear in this instance is the sequential numerical progression, which, when taken in segments of 10 (or 22), is a line.

**This part of the draft is outdated, written during the final week in July, but I kept it because it was on the cusp of the change in seasons, and I liked that example. If you’re curious, the current cards as of August 27th are the Sun of Life, the Seer, the Salmon (Queen of Vessels), and the Three of Vessels, titled “Joy.”

***I love discovering new and innovative ways in which the Tarot cards can be employed. When I picked up my first pack, I never would have guessed I’d be using cards as a calendar tracking spiritual development six or seven months down the line (I also never would have imagined I’d own more than one pack). The possibilities are limitless.